Last night we had, among other things, boxed macaroni and cheese. Ghastly, but the kids like it. It’s 10 minutes to the plate once the water starts to boil. Quick and dirty.
Christmas Cake is the polar opposite of quick and dirty. It is a laborious process, occupying many months and lots of loving care. Why do it? Because my sweetie is English and unlike his countryman still on the isle, cannot scamper to Tesco’s to purchase one. To keep his holidays festive, I learned how to make a Christmas Cake and aside from the decorating (more on that later), I’ve been given high marks for my confection.
Before you hit the “bleh” button, discard from your mind American fruitcake. That stuff is nasty and rightly maligned. Christmas or British Fruit Cake was the choice of William and Kate for their wedding; you know it’s got to be better than your mental image.
How and when to begin? After your holiday decor has been put away, it’s time to visit your local market and purchase some in-season oranges, lemons and limes. If you put this step off till August or September (which you can), the fruit will be much more expensive and thin skinned. Candied fruit or mixed peel is the citrus hit in the cake. Do not, repeat, do not use the nasty candied fruit which is available in the produce sections for bakers of American fruit cake. Make it fresh and you will be rewarded.
Part 1 – Mixed Peel (Dec-Feb)
Adapted from Foodnetwork.com
- 6 thick skinned Valencia or navel oranges
- 6 medium lemons
- 6 large limes
- 6 cups sugar, plus extra for rolling
- 2 cups water
Cut the tops and bottoms off the fruit, cut them into quarters and cut off the peel. I like to leave a little of the fruit on, but that is a personal preference. Cut the peel into 1/4″ wide strips and reserve the fruit flesh for other recipes.
BOIL Put the peels into a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then pour off the water. Repeat 1 or 2 more times, depending on how assertive you want the flavors to be (I use 3 times). Remove the peels from the pan.
SYRUP Whisk the sugar with the water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 8-9 minutes or until a candy thermometer registers 230-234ºF. Add the peels and simmer gently, reducting heat to retain a simmer. Cook until the peels get translucent, about 45 minutes. Resist the urge to stir the peels or you may introduce sugar crystals into the syrup. If necessary, swirl the pan to move the peels around. Drain the peels, saving the syrup for other uses. Roll the peels in sugar and dry on a rack for 4-5 hours. Return to the sugar to store.